Baby Goats and a Recipe Kids can Make

I love this photo of Isabelle Laguitton — one of my first teachers, a favorite person, and no longer with us.

Here is a recipe from a kids’ cooking class she did with my kids back in 2009

Mid-March, a few weeks before Easter and in the numerous goat herds around us, nearly all have given birth or as they say here, “mise-bas”. The warmth and good weather have been a plus. Our friends build a wall of hay bales in their barns to keep in the warmth and protect the kids as the cold winds can be fierce. But this year, with the wind holding off and the sun shining quite gloriously, the kids are out trotting with their mothers nearly immediately. In a couple weeks, the markets will begin to overflow with the new cheese.

I count a number of goat cheese makers amongst my friends, but I think my dearest is Isabelle. Sophie, my beekeeper and a fantastic source of contacts and suggestions, brought us together a few years’ back when another goat cheese maker I visited was unavailable. Isabelle and her husband Paul Pierre are people I love dearly. I want to hug them and hold onto them at each visit. In their eyes I see sincerity, affection, amusement, and the gift of appreciating the moment and the people they love. It is magical and catching. Educated as architects, they met in Paris, and soon decided that the architecture scene of the 1970s wasn’t for them. They went back to the country of their roots and started raising goats and making cheese. She is the go-getter, the one who launched many a work-site, collaborations with other farmers, and who, alongside Sophie, joined groups of organic women agricultural workers, pushing for better recognition, opportunities, and more. Paul Pierre is the more reserved one, hesitant, but in the end willing. Often, I believe he would simply sigh, push back his fatigue and jump in to pick up the pieces strewn by his much loved wife in her headlong momentum through life.

In the art and rhythm of goat cheese making they have built a life that welcomes visitors, nourished their daughter (and now their grandson!), and allowed them to slowly renovate the ancient olive oil mill that is their home, stable, and cheese-making facility. In the early years, when they had the physical force to attack any and all projects, they would spend the “off season” of the winter working on the buildings. But as time passed, they came to the realization, that just perhaps, the job wouldn’t be accomplished in their life-time. And they are ok with this. Learning to accept your limits is a gift, if it comes soon enough.

And I think it did come just soon enough. Isabelle is very sick with a brain tumor. She is no longer charging across the country joining rallies for women agricultural workers. Her more political and active days are behind her. She is more than ever now living in the present with conscious joy in her brand new grandson, her daughter newly installed next door, and her husband more present and attentive since they passed on their goats to a former intern. And yet, with complete lucidity, she is also living the slow and persistent deterioration of her brain, and in particular the area that touches the concept. Bouts with various chemotherapy treatments hold the illness at bay for short spans before it starts back up again. Reading is no longer possible, long discussions wearying. She is there, in the present, grateful for and loving of those around her, and oh so aware of what the future holds for her. At first she had to give up driving, but now, even going up and down the one stairwell in the house is something she does to a minimum.

And yet even here, she is generous. I visit and we talk of her illness, but also of my children, of JP and I (she makes allusions to her couple with Paul Pierre, and that it is possible for a go-getter to be with a more reserved type, that perhaps we’ll come to the point where the opposites that we are will balance and nourish and inspire…). She is the loving, head square on her shoulders, gentle and accepting aunt that I so need over here. She is my adopted family replacing those I left back in the States. I cherish the times we are together, and no doubt I talk too much. But I so value her counsel and her experience. I visit as often as the distance and my busy life permit, bringing a bit of my bread, or a story, or some of JP’s wine, or just myself happy to be with her.

Isabelle is also my main resource for the chapter in my book project on artisans and recipes for teens and kids. She has shared many of her recipes with me, including the basic ones for making cheese in the style she has for so many years. And, last year, at a moment when she was a bit less weary, she gave a short cooking class to my boys and our friend Alexandra. It was a magical moment, the kids loved everything they made — from herbed cheese spread to olive oil and goat cheese cake.

The herbed cheese spread was easy, and though it had enough greenery to put off many a child, the kids — artisans of their own dish– loved it. Here, with love, generosity and a nudge to live in the present, is Isabelle’s recipe:

Collect all the ingredients and put them on or by your work surface:

2 fresh goat cheeses about 100g (3.5oz) each

cream (3 tablespoons)

salt (½ teaspoon)

fresh mint, chives, parsley, tarragon and cilantro — or what you might have on hand, basil, lovage, celery leaf, thyme…

Utensils:

A whisk

Kitchen scizzors

A rubber (or silicon) spatula for scraping the bowl

A mixing bowl

Put the two cheeses in the mixing bowl, pour in the cream, and mix till smooth with the whisk – about 3 minutes.

Next with kitchen scizzors, snip the fresh herbs in a small bowl or cup – this way you don’t lose any on the kitchen floor.

The mixture we used was: 10 mint leaves, 10 stalks of chives, 2 teaspoons of tarragon leaves, a good handful of parsley, and just a pinch of fresh cilantro (Isabelle said to be careful with this herb as it is really strong in flavor).

Taking turns, we mixed for a couple minutes each, adding salt to taste (depending on your cheese, and your taste buds, you might not need any salt, so definitely taste first before adding any).

Enjoy on bread, with chips, or with carrot sticks and celery sticks. Definitely something to make for Mom and Dad’s parties, or even to stuff home-made pasta.

Baby Goats & A Recipe from Isabelle

A Post from March 2009

I delayed my arrival at the winery Saturday. I couldn’t resist going over to see Isabelle and Paul Pierre. I missed seeing their new baby grandson as their daughter was out shopping for groceries, but that was ok. I wasn’t there to hold a wee little worm of a baby in my arms (no matter how lovely a sensation that is), I was there to see my dear friends, to give them big American hugs, and to spend a moment together. I brought her up to date on my adapting of her recipes, and what I’ve been able to find on the internet for the teen cookbook, and more. We chatted about my boys, JP, life in general. Oh yes, and, mothers that we are, and brand new grandmother that she is, we took turns telling tales of our birthing experiences: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Paul Pierre, who’d been there for the birth of his daughter, and his grandson, was actually able to partake in this otherwise very female discussion. I know many a man who would have politely tolerated this for a moment or two, and then suddenly found a reason to exit stage left. We heartily agreed that things have improved drastically since the day 30 years’ ago she gave birth, and even since the day seven and and half years’ ago when I gave birth.

However, I did take advantage of the time to photograph the new kids.

Between the flowers that are exploding all around, the leaves filling the trees and the arrival of baby animals… I revel in the depth of this rebirth that fills my senses. The perfume of the mimosa, the colors dancing off my eyes, and the gentle warmth of a baby’s beating heart against my chest (the baby goat that is).

On their way back to Avignon with their father, the boys saw a brand new calf at the dairy where we get our milk. From atop our bikes as we ride by the dead arm of the Rhône, we catch sight of the families of ducks with the little ones trailing behind swimming, and darting and intermingling amidst the reeds. It truly is a renaissance.

Pistachio Goat Cheese Balls

4 fresh goat cheese rounds (about 2 cups of cheese)

1/4 cream

1 tablespoon tarragon (fresh or dried)

2 cups shelled and chopped pistachios

1/2 cup shredded parmesan

In a mixing bowl mash together the goat cheese, the cream and the tarragon to make a somewhat firm paste. Using your very clean hands, make lots of small thumb-sized balls. Put aside.

Mix your pistachios and parmesan together in a shallow plate, and one by one, roll and press gently the cheese balls in this mixture. Arrange decoratively on a serving dish, and chill till you are ready to serve.

If yesterday’s lunch is any clue, they go fast!

Goats in the Morning

August 2009 – my first full week at the goat farm in Provence

Yes I can, when necessary, be a morning person. And how lovely it can be.

Amongst the many benefits beyond beautiful misty landscapes are a chance to chat quietly with Paul Pierre and Isabelle about the many variations and ways of personalizing a person’s goat cheese making. For instance, they use rather little rennit compared to the standard practice. And, they don’t necessarily chill the milk first before putting in the rennit and the whey. They leave it 72 hours rather than just 24 in their 20C/70F room, and the texture of their curdle is quite a bit softer than that of other colleagues.

There are also variations possible depending on how long the cheese is left on the racks in the 20C/70F room, before being put in the dehumidifier. And, it can stay longer in the dehumidifier, if a drier, firmer cheese is preferred. Likewise, the cave d’affinage can be set at 11C or at 14C, depending on the preference of the cheese maker.

Working with live enzymes: the art of fermenting. Temperature, humidity, and so much more play a part. Each cheese maker finds the method that pleases he or she. Trial and error, reading and learning, watching and following, and then off on your own path.

When Flipping Cheese

This is a blog post from December 2009 — back when I was interning in France — It feels like a long long time ago!

From a one-day in the mold (or half for some cheesemakers) to the 10 day aged in the aging room. The visual and tactile evolution of goat cheese rounds.

Flipping soft cheese is an art, a skill to be acquired, mastered, practiced, repeated ad infinitum. It is zen-meditation inspiring. You are manipulating lovely textures, ever so gently, back into the mold or out onto the drying racks. In the spring time, the action can go on for hours. Now, two weeks before the end of season, it is relatively brief. Two days’ worth of cheese is flipped in simply a little under an hour. That soft and breakable one day cheese is now in my fingers, now in its mold, ready to continue releasing its whey and turning into a firm little round. And the two day olds are ready to be flipped out and put in the drying room. Those in the drying room are switched to the aging room, and those in the aging room… age.

hmmmm.

I did get to be with Isabelle a bit this past Thursday. Yet again on the chemo. Her liver is suffering, but has built back up to a certain level of tolerance after her three week chemo-hiatus. English class was cancelled, and I was looking forward to a more graciously slow-moving meal of sea bream, dorade, and sauteed veggies together in her and Paul Pierre’s company, when school called to tell me Leo was sick. Ah well, I passed over the vegetable making to Isabelle, gave her the ritual three kisses, and headed out the door.

The afternoon finished quite peacefully with my boy and I watching Ivanhoe on the computer. A gift really. With children who are almost never sick, quiet time together just has to be accepted out of the blue when the universe so chooses.